In the United States and Canada, as well as most European countries, college students enjoy significant assistance with the cost of pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees. This assistance comes in the form of government subsidized loans and grants, as well as funding from private foundations and scholarship competitions.
Even if you can qualify for tuition assistance in your own country, it can be confusing and difficult to find financial aid that you can use to pursue your college degree in North America. The United States government does not extend college funding to students from foreign countries. Likewise, immigration and travel restrictions can make it impossible to qualify for employment during your stay in the U.S.
Therefore, you must plan ahead and find resourceful ways to locate scholarships and sponsorships that can help you study abroad. Most students who successfully locate financial aid for an American degree program find it from one of three sources:
- They identify a generous, private sponsor.
- They earn funding from an international scholarship program.
- They secure financial aid within their home country by participating in a locally based foreign exchange program.
Locating a Private Sponsor
Throughout most of the world, wealthy individuals often sponsor eager students from their communities. By paying for a college student's international learning experience, they hope that their beneficiary will contribute their talents to the world, bringing praise and satisfaction back to their hometown. Other sponsors expect students to bring the knowledge and the perspective gained from international study back home, where they can help fellow citizens. Experts advise that you seek private sponsorship for your studies from friends, family members, and neighbors in your home country.
Qualifying for Scholarship Programs
More frequently, international students can earn money for an American college degree by competing for prestigious scholarships. Many private foundations and charitable organizations sponsor scholarship competitions to help advance their cause or expand their profession. Family foundations extend smaller scholarships to honor the memory of deceased loved ones, some of whom may have wished to help foreign students.
A number of service organizations, like the Rotary Foundation, offer scholarships to international students who can spread goodwill on the organization's behalf in their home countries. Trade organizations often recruit bright students who want to apply specific skills in their homeland.
Government organizations and agencies offer scholarships for a variety of reasons. Many governments subsidize international education to bridge cultural gaps between countries. Other nations hope that students can gain advanced knowledge and skills in the United States that they can put to work to improve the quality of life in their home country.
Because competition for these limited international scholarships is fierce, you should have a clear vision of the career you want to pursue. That way, you can search for scholarships in a narrower field, where you stand a better chance at earning money for your college education. You may have to wade through directories and guidebooks to locate the right scholarship programs, but your research and hard work could earn you free tuition to some of the world's most prestigious universities.
Making Exchange Programs Work for You
Most international students who find financial aid to attend school in the United States arrange their degree program through a local exchange program. Although this solution may seem like a compromise, it may be the only reasonable way to get outside help with your tuition expenses.
In a reputable exchange program at an accredited college or university in your home country, you can enroll in the degree program of your choice.
Working with international student exchange organizations, like the Council for International Education Exchange, you can study abroad at campuses throughout the world.
Through reciprocal exchange agreements, you will not have to pay tuition to your host campus, though you will be responsible for covering your living expenses during your stay in a foreign country. This way, you can qualify for many of the financial aid programs in your own country, while still benefiting from the quality education and the exciting cultural experience of living and studying in the United States.
In many cases, you will be permitted to take as many as half of your required courses at a college or university in the United States. During your exchange program, you can continue to research opportunities to transfer to your host school on a full time basis.
Steps to Applying for Financial Aid
- DECIDE on the career path you want to pursue, and the degree you want to earn.
- SELECT a few schools in the United States that interest you. Request program materials from their international affairs office.
- SPEAK with an admissions counselor or an international affairs specialist at one of your local colleges or universities. They might be able to match you with subsidized scholarships for exchange programs.
- SPEAK to friends and family about your goals and explain your financial need. Give them a clear picture of the amount your need to raise to make your dream come true.
- SEARCH directories and databases for private scholarships that cater to your chosen field, or to your home country. Follow the application instructions carefully and return all documents to the sponsoring organization well in advance of the deadline.
United States Standards for Dependent StatusEven if you have relocated to the United States and you pay all of your own bills with no help from your family, you could still be considered a dependent by the Department of Education. If you cannot answer "yes" to at least one of these questions, you will only qualify for financial aid as a dependent.
- Were you at least 24 years old by December 31st of the award year covered by the FAFSA?
- During the current school year, will you be working on a master's or doctorate program?
- As of today, are you married?
- Do you have children who receive more than half their support from you?
- Do you have other dependents (other than children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half their support from you?
- Are you an orphan or ward/dependent of the court?
- Are you a veteran of the U.S. armed forces?
If the Department of Education does not consider you a dependent, you may qualify for significantly higher amounts of financial aid, including larger workstudy grants and private scholarships.
Tax Implications for Students and ParentsDepending on the laws of your home country, financial aid you receive from colleges, universities, or private sponsors may be taxable or subject to other financial regulations. Many countries permit students to accept grants and scholarships tax-free. Some countries may limit the amount of financial aid that you can accept from foreign sources each calendar year. Consult with financial aid officials from a college or university in your home country to learn about the implications of financial aid for you and for your parents.
More Information on the Web
- AAUW Education Foundation - organizes graduate fellowships for academically gifted women from around the world who want to complete their doctoral work in the United States.
- Agency for International Development - provides learning opportunities and educational exchange programs for students who want to bring advanced skills to their home countries.
- Council for International Educational Exchange - coordinates worldwide study abroad, work exchange, and internship programs. Also operates international travel services and other student support programs.
- EducationUSA - an outreach project of the State Department that promotes American colleges and universities to students around the world.
- EduPass - maintains a list of specific schools that extend financial aid packages to international students, including the number of students served by each school.
- FastWeb - maintains a comprehensive database of scholarship programs in the United States, including financial aid opportunities for international students.
- FinAid - catalogs a variety of scholarship and fellowship opportunities, including programs available to international students.
- The Foundation Center - publishes a paid subscription service highlighting current scholarship opportunities for international students.
- Fulbright Scholarship Program - offers high academic achievers from around the world the opportunity to study in the United States each year.
- International Education Financial Aid - provides in-depth information for international students that want to find help with their tuition expenses.
- NAFSA: The Association of International Educators - does not extend funding to international students, but studies trends and tracks opportunities for cross-cultural education.
- Rotary International - extends scholarships to international students who can represent the service organization as "goodwill ambassadors" in their home countries after graduation.
- Support4Learning - publishes a newsletter for European college students that wish to study overseas.
- United States Department of Education - provides comprehensive information about the financial aid process for United States citizens and foreign exchange students.
- United States Department of State - offers scholarships and tracks financial aid opportunities for students of selected countries.
- United States Information Agency - supports international and cultural exchange programs throughout the world.